Category Archives: Nutrition

Protein — For the Hype or Health of it?

Love those bagels, but they’re not on your new low carb plan? The popularity of high-protein diets like the Zone, Atkins and South Beach has created an awareness in many Americans to shun high-carbohydrate foods in favor of high-protein, low-carb alternatives. In fact, over the past several years, protein sales to the mainstream consumer have exploded. Gone are the days of protein supplements being reserved for bodybuilders and athletes. It’s hardly possible to miss some type of ad, article or research touting the benefits of protein. And while low-carb beer might seem like an oxymoron, it represents but one of the many mainstream food and beverage manufacturers that have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon since 2000. The challenge now has become to provide healthy, high protein foods and snacks that provide the nutrition of a high quality protein food and the satisfaction and taste of their carb -laden counterparts.

The good news is food scientists have made great strides in the realm of proteins that are no longer the powdery, odd-tasting ingredients of the past. Not only have protein shakes and snacks come a long way, but because various powdered protein formulations share similar physical characteristics with grain flours, a significant portion of a flour-containing recipe can be substituted with a protein powder, providing a higher protein, lower carb count.

Got a hankering for muffins? Craving a big hearty bowl of pasta?
You can now enjoy low carb, high protein foods in the form of wonderful tasting pastas, cookies and even breads and bagels without feeling like you’re on a diet, and more importantly, without sacrificing nutrition!

But why all the rage over protein?

Protein – the word itself is a derivative of a Greek word meaning “of primary importance”, and whether you are trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or maintain optimum health, the benefits as well as the necessity of protein cannot be overstated. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in the human body. All tissues, bones, and nerves are comprised mostly of protein. Your muscles, skin, hair, nails, heart, brain and internal organs use protein as their primary building material. Collagen, which is a special type of protein, is important for strong arteries, tendons, ligaments, teeth and connective tissues. Protein even comprises a major portion of the blood and lymph and is essential for proper hormone function and immune system health.

In addition to being an essential nutrient for life, protein has a number of specific benefits desired by the carbohydrate-conscious consumer. Protein increases calcium absorption from the gut and preserves muscle and bone mass when one is dieting to lose weight. Protein promotes growth hormone release, which fosters fat burning and the preservation of lean body mass. Protein creates significantly more heat during metabolism than comparable amounts of carbohydrate. Most importantly, in terms of losing fat and changing body composition, protein is critical for building and repairing muscle tissue. When you are trying to lose fat, you reduce your calories. Unfortunately, your body views fat stores as more precious than your muscle tissue and will tend to burn up muscle tissue before it goes to fat for energy. This physiological adaptation, which used to protect our ancestors from famine, no longer works in our favor. This is unfortunate, because muscle is our metabolically active tissue; it is our greatest calorie-burner. Every action, from walking to breathing and even blinking is powered by muscle. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and the more calories you burn, even at rest! Conversely, if you have less muscle mass, your metabolism will be slower. Pound for pound, muscle burns 25 times more calories than fat. One pound of muscle can burn 30 to 50 calories in a day, or 350 to 500 calories a week. One pound of fat only burns two calories a day or 14 in a week. So, if you build just five pounds of muscle, that’s equivalent to burning 26 pounds of fat in a year. Therefore, building and preserving lean muscle tissue not only makes fat loss easier, but more permanent.

Eat more to weigh less?!

One of the best ways to ensure this muscle building, fat loss success is to consume small protein based meals throughout the day. Probably the biggest mistake people who are trying to lose body fat make, is to not eat enough. We think that by limiting calories, skipping meals, and not eating breakfast, we are certainly burning fat, right? Nothing could be more wrong. By eating only a couple of times a day, we slow down our metabolic rate as if we are putting our bodies into a state of fasting. This is actually store fat mode, rather than fat burn mode. What is worse is that our bodies will actually begin to catabolize, or burn, muscle tissue (not fat) for fuel. Yes, your body begins sacrificing brain tissue, internal organs, skin and muscle to supply you with the energy that you need to get through the day. Talk about self-defeating! Not only are you storing fat and permanently lowering your metabolism by breaking down precious muscle tissue, but if you are exercising to enhance your fat burning, body reshaping program, you are also depriving your body of the protein it needs to rebuild and repair what you have torn down in the gym.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not build muscle when you workout. Exercise, even weight lifting, actually breaks down muscle tissue. You need an adequate amount of protein in your diet, particularly immediately after working out, to recover and repair muscle tissue. This is critical for building and preserving lean muscle tissue. Without protein, your body must break down existing muscle to repair what was broken down in the gym. Counter productive for sure as well as the reason so many people don’t see the results they are looking for and become disillusioned with working out. Again, a common mistake that can be remedied by simply consuming an adequate amount of protein each and every day.

Instead of trying to not eat to burn calories, we need to retrain ourselves to eat more frequently to stoke up our metabolism and keep it burning in high gear. Think of your metabolism as a fire and imagine you have just lit two fires. On one fire, you toss a big fat log and let it sit for several hours. The second fire, you periodically feed foot long chunks of firewood. So which fire is going to burn hotter and more efficiently? Obviously, the fire that you are constantly feeding with the right fuel burns better. When you return to the first fire, you’ll find smoldering embers and half the log left unburned. Meanwhile, the second fire is hot enough to melt glass. Likewise, if we only eat a couple meals a day, particularly larger, heavier meals (because we are starving since we haven’t eaten most of the day) we will end up with a sluggish, “smoldering” metabolism, and left over food or calories, stored as fat. Conversely, if we feed our bodies small, frequent, protein based meals, not only will we keep our metabolism stoked and burning efficiently, we will be building and preserving that all important muscle tissue which will in turn further increase metabolism.

You will find that once you increase your protein intake, you will not only burn fat and see lean muscle gains faster, but you will recover from exercise faster, sleep better, have fewer cravings, and have TONS of energy!

Liquid Candy: Are Sodas Making Our Kids Fatter, and Sicker?

Just one soft drink can’t make that much of a difference, or can it.?

Alarmingly, research has shown that just one soft drink a day gives a child a 60 percent greater chance of becoming obese.

The number of obese children in America is on the rise, increasing over 100 percent since 1980, and tripling sense the 70’s.  American children and teen-agers are heavier than ever and still gaining weight.

There are many worrisome trends that have contributed to the epidemic of childhood obesity.  The increased consumption of fast food, “super sized” portions, less activity and exercise – kids not playing outdoors as much as in the past, more time sitting in front of computers, video games and the TV are all factors.  But we are now finding the increased consumption of sugar, a whopping estimated 34 teaspoons a day, not just from sugary snacks, but increased soft drink consumption, seems to play a critical role.

Over the last 10 years, soft drink consumption has almost doubled among children in the United States. The average American teenager consumes 15 to 20 extra teaspoons of sugar a day just from soda and other sugared drinks.
That’s hundreds of extra calories that aren’t being compensated for by cutting back on eating.  While people tend to eat less at a meal if they have overeaten at a previous meal, they don’t seem to do the same if the extra calories have come from sugary drinks. In addition, the average soft drink has gone from 8 ounces to 24 or even 32 ounces.  That’s the equivalent of 30 packets of table sugar, or 480 calories in just sugar.  These added calories are adding up to added fat on America’s youth.

Additionally, the extra weight they are gaining poses a real health risk, because childhood obesity leads to adult obesity and chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. However, we are now also seeing these weight-related ailments increasingly occur in children.  Alarming numbers of severely overweight children are developing type 2 diabetes — what we used to call adult-onset diabetes — high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, and we are seeing the complications from these at very early ages.

Another often overlooked, but equally important consequence of overweight children is that of low self-esteem.  A child who is heavy is usually teased, ridiculed and shunned, often leading to isolation and depression.  A landmark study of first graders showed that children are more likely to choose as a friend someone with a visible handicap rather than someone who is overweight.

We know by limiting something as simple as the consumption of soft drinks in children, can help prevent obesity. But, the epidemic is the result of many factors. Blaming it on any single thing, including soft drinks, would be nutritional nonsense.  So what is the solution?  First, parents need to look at every aspect of their child’s lifestyle – including food habits and choices, as well as activity level.  Parents need to be the role models — both in activity and food and drink choices. How can we expect our kids to adopt healthy, active lifestyles if we sit on the couch watching TV, eating pizza and drinking soda?

Make better choices
We need to look at what kids are eating and drinking at home and at school, including what they get from vending machines, concession stands and convenience stores.  Children need adequate calories to grow, and healthy snacks are a good way to reach those caloric needs.

What about water? Avoid soft drinks and other sugar-laden beverages. Kids don’t drink or even have a taste for water because they are so used to highly sweetened drinks.  Water is essential for proper hydration, metabolism and brain function.

Read food labels for indications on sugar content. If the word sugar, sucrose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, fructose, honey, or syrup appears first or in the top three ingredients, then the food contains a large amount of sugar. Also look to see how many different sugars are listed — they can add up to be several in one product.

Choose high protein, low sugar snacks and offer alternatives without processed sugars, such as fresh fruit, yogurt, soy nuts, or a sandwich made with whole grain bread, natural peanut butter and sugar free jelly.

Get moving! Make a commitment to promoting exercise and fitness for the entire family.  Parents should initiate activities for everyone to take part in, such as bike riding, roller blading or even walking the dog.  These activities are not only beneficial for the health of parents and children, but also for their relationship.

So, What is Kefir, Anyway?

Kefir is a fermented food that adds healthy bowel flora to our intestines, stabilizes digestive function, and has an extensive range of other health benefits.  When consumed, these healthy bacteria and yeast have tremendous healing power and benefit the body in many ways.

First, the kefir creates a healthy mucous lining in the colon, which acts as a good medium to support the growth of beneficial bowel flora.  Kefir helps to prevent parasitic infections and cancer, as well as constipation.

Because of kefir’s ability to establish healthy bowel flora, it is beneficial in preventing many gastrointestinal disorders.  Some researchers have found that kefir also exudes bacterial inhibitory factors, which prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.  In this sense, it actually acts as a natural antibiotic.  Some studies show that kefir whey neutralizes most pathogenic bacteria within 24 hours.  Various medical reports suggest that Kefir has been helpful in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, allergies, migraines, gout, rheumatic arthritic conditions, candidiasis, and colitis.  The World Health Organization reported that kefir has been used effectively in the treatment of tuberculosis and typhoid fever.  Additional studies suggest that diarrhea caused by E. coli bacterial in newborn infants has been successfully controlled with kefir.  Other studies show that kefir helps to heal urinary tract infections and even prostate problems.  Kefir may also be important in the alleviation of anxiety.  Interestingly enough, those put on a kefir diet consistently have less anxiety.  This may be because the fermentation process produces high levels of tryptophan, which converts into serotonin in the brain, thus producing a relaxing effect.

Probiotics (Beneficial to Life) Versus Disease

Preliminary research supports probiotics’ potential to prevent or treat many common conditions.

  • Ameliorate vaginal (bacterial and yeast), urinary tract, and bladder infections.
  • Ameliorate inflammatory intestinal disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Ameliorate food allergies and inflammatory allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema.
  • Reduce several risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • Reduce several risk factors for intestinal cancers.
  • Reduce the duration of gastroenteritis and rotavirus-induced diarrhea in infants.
  • Reduce the rate of childhood respiratory infections.
  • Ameliorate microbe-induced traveler’s diarrhea.
  • Help prevent tooth decay.

Just Say Soy

Never before has eating one simple food held so much promise for health. Soy has been shown to reduce symptoms of menopause and PMS, protect against breast, prostate, and colon cancer, build bone and prevent osteoporosis, regulate blood sugar levels, protect against heart disease and Alzheimer’s, and lower cholesterol levels.  In fact, the FDA has recently given the green light for soy food manufacturers to tout soy’s heart healthy benefits right on the label with the American Heart Association’s seal of approval.

Who would have imagined so much disease fighting power could be packed into one tiny pod?

For centuries, the Chinese and Japanese have enjoyed soybeans as a staple in their diet, providing an excellent source of protein. What’s interesting is that in these Asian cultures, we see lower incidences of breast cancer as well as PMS and menopausal symptoms in women, lower incidences of prostate cancer in men, and lower incidences of Alzheimer’s, even though the typical Asian lifespan is longer than that of ours in the United States.  Research has now attributed these lower rates of chronic illness, in part, to their particularly high dietary consumption of soy.

So what gives soy such great healing power?

Soy is the only common food source of a class of plant hormones, or phytoestrogens, known as isoflavones, which appear to offer protection against a variety of ailments. It is these isoflavones, Genistein and Diadzein, that have been the focus of more and more research with quite beneficial findings.

Ease Menopause and PMS

Soy is what is known as an “adaptogenic” – the phytoestrogens in soy can have an estrogen like effect if your estrogen levels are low, and will actually bind to estrogen receptor sites and block estrogen if levels are too high.  For this reason, soy is a great natural way to balance hormone levels and can be used as a safe alternative to hormone replacement therapy, offering most of the benefits, without the risks or side effects.  Research has confirmed that soy protein as a regular part of the diet can relieve many of the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, anxiety, headaches and insomnia.  For these same reasons, soy is able to relieve similar symptoms associated with PMS as well as help regulate periods.

Prevent Cancer

Studies have also shown that the phytoestrogens in soy can sharply reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer with their estrogen blocking effects, particularly cancer causing environmental estrogens known as xenoestrogens.   Soy is the only food source that is a powerful antioxidant and offers many anticancer compounds that inhibit tumor growth.

Build Bone

Soy consumption also helps bones and offers protection against osteoporosis. Soy not only helps prevent bone loss, but also has been shown to actually build bone – a benefit HRT cannot offer.  Additionally, many soy products contain calcium – another boost for your bones, and when you eat soy protein rather than animal protein, your body excretes less calcium. Quite a case for the bone building benefits of soy!

Also, ipriflavone, a derivative of the soy isoflavone diadzein, has been shown in numerous studies to increase bone density and prevent further bone loss.

Cardiovascular Health

Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for soy is its ability to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.  Soy has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on blood vessel reactivity, which may be why it is helpful with migraine headaches.  The fiber, isoflavones and antioxidants in soy all provide wonderful cardiovascular benefits.

So Just Say Soy!

With all these health benefits, it’s hard to say no to such a miracle food. And for those of you who say all this talk of soy conjures up thoughts of white lumps of tasteless tofu available at health food stores and Asian markets as a non-meat protein alternative for health fanatics  – not so.  Soy is for everyone who wants to reap its many benefits.  And, with so many good tasting soy food alternatives readily available today – it’s easy to incorporate soy into your diet.

Here are a few particularly tasty recommendations that seem to go over quite well, even with the most resistant soy consumer.

One of the simplest easiest ways to add soy to your diet is with a high quality soy protein shake. My recommendation is the OptiPRO S by PhytoCeutical Formulations.  Not only does it taste great and mix instantly, it’s all natural, contains no sugar and has been formulated specifically to mitigate symptoms of menopause, while protecting cardiovascular health, building bone density, preventing risk of cancer and helping with weight management.

Try using soymilk instead of cow’s milk. Ask for soymilk the next time you order your favorite coffee from the local coffee shop or try it over cereal or mixed with a soy protein powder for the added protein boost. The Silk brand has a pleasant taste, comes in a variety of flavors and is good by itself as a snack.

A handful of roasted soy nuts makes a great high protein, low carb snack.  Many brands come in an assortment of flavors from unsalted to BBQ and Hot Cajun or even sweet Apple Cinnamon. Try a few brands to see which tastes and textures best suit your fancy.

Soy Nut Butter.  If you have ever tasted it, I needn’t say more.  A delicious alternative to peanut butter, soy nut butter is high in protein, lower in fat, and safe for all those allergic to peanuts.  It’s only downfall is it’s highly addictive and the excuse you are getting your daily allowance of soy isoflavones will only work for a while.

Edamame, the steamed green soybeans popularized as an appetizer in Asian restaurants, make a wonderful snack or compliment to dinner or a salad.  They are readily available fresh or frozen, in or out of their pods.

Tofu and Tempeh are still great sources of soy protein and are now available prepared as Burgers, Dogs and meat alternatives of all kinds. My favorites are Light Life’s Gimme Lean  Sausage and Gardenburger’s frozen meals & wraps. These are particularly tasty and are enjoyed by even the finikiest, who are reluctant to try soy.

Just try adding a couple of these items into your diet, and sampling the ever growing market of great tasting soy products, and in just a short time, not only will you be reaping the health benefits, but you will be looking forward to three or four serving of soy a day.

Beat the Heat with Proper Hydration

With summer temperatures soaring to the 90 degree mark it’s more important than ever for people participating in outdoor activities to remember that nagging advice ” be sure to drink plenty of fluids”.   Whether you are running a marathon or simply cutting the grass, adequate fluid intake is essential for comfort, performance and safety. Dehydration is a major cause of fatigue, poor performance, decreased coordination, muscle cramping and even worse, the possibility of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

How much is enough?

Do not rely on thirst alone to determine when and how much to drink.  Thirst is a poor indicator of the amount of fluids you may actually need – by the time you are thirsty, you may already be well on your way to dehydration.  During just one hour of moderate exercise, you can sweat away more than a quart of water.  An easy way to determine your fluid intake needs is to weigh yourself before and after exercise.  Weight changes reflect sweat losses (sorry, that two pounds wasn’t body fat). Each pound that you have lost sweating is equal to two cups or 16 ounces of fluid that you will need to replace accordingly.  So, if you have lost two pounds of sweat during an hour of exercise, you will need to consume two pounds or 32 ounces of fluids during each hour of future exercise.  This will work out to drinking 8 ounces every 15 minutes.  Prehydration is also important in preventing dehydration.  When preparing for strenuous exercise, drink at least 16 to 20 ounces of water two hours before exercise and another 8 ounces 15 to 30 minutes just prior to the activity.

Water or sports drinks?

Just plain water is probably the most appropriate choice for casual exercise and activities that last no more than an hour.  For more intense exercise lasting longer than an hour, such as running, cycling or rollerblading, it may be advantageous to consume a sports drink or diluted fruit juice providing 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour to delay fatigue and fuel muscle contractions.  It is really not necessary to replace losses of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes since it is unlikely you will deplete your body’s stores of these minerals during normal training.

If, however, you do exercise over 5 or 6 hours or in extreme conditions, such as a marathon or triathlon, you will want to use a complex sports drink that contains both carbohydrates and electrolytes.  Athletes who don’t consume electrolytes under these conditions risk overhydration from consuming excessive amounts of electrolyte free water, causing low blood sodium concentration or hyponatremia. A tip to athletes who train with water because it’s cheap and readily available, then decide to use a sports drink for competition – experiment prior to competition. Unfamiliar sports drinks may cause upset stomach, so it’s a good idea to find which one works best for you before the big event.

It is also a good idea to choose carbohydrate rich fluids such as recovery drinks or fruit juices that replace water losses and muscle glycogen to enhance recovery after exercise.
What about beer?

Beer is often a popular postexercise “recovery drink” but the alcohol in beer has a dehydrating effect that causes you to lose valuable fluids at a time when you should be replacing them.  If you intend to drink beer, quench your thirst first with water, eat something so you aren’t drinking on an empty stomach, and then enjoy a beer or two in moderation.

What about caffeine?

Caffeine has ergogenic properties and is often used pre-exercise for that extra energy boost.  Caffeine, however, also has diuretic properties causing your body to excrete fluid instead of retaining, so it’s not the wisest choice when you’re trying to retain proper hydration.